Empathetic behavior and body language are both associated with genetic variations, according to a study published in, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Thus, a smile or nod of empathy may explain the type of genes the individual has. Individuals who display more empathetic behavior when loved ones explain their hardships have a prosocial gene, which makes them smile, nod, or make eye contact while talking. These people with the prosocial gene were also rated as the most empathetic people when strangers observed them for 20 seconds on a videotape.
Researcher Aleksandr Kogan, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, remarked that even the slightest difference in the genes have an impact on the behavior which are easily observed by strangers. In this study, researchers videotaped the conversation between 23 romantic couples when one of them was explaining the difficult time of their life to the other. Researchers tested the type of oxytocin gene present in the participants before the start of the shoot. The oxytocin gene was chosen, as it is a hormone associated with sociability, personal bonding, and maternal behaviors.
Some of the earlier studies have shown that people who had the ‘G’ version of the gene tend to be more prosocial, when compared to those who had the ‘A’ version. Individuals with the ‘G’ version always behave in a way that benefits others. Individuals with the ‘A’ version were not very empathetic and had a high risk of autism.
About 116 strangers watched a 20 second video shoot of couples and rated the listener among the couple on how kind, trustworthy, and caring they were based on their body language. The results of the study show that individuals who had a GG variation of the gene were more empathetic than the people with other genetic variations. Out of the 10 people rated as the most empathetic, six had the GG variation of the gene. Among the 10 least empathetic people, rated by the strangers, nine of them had the AA variation.
Researcher Sarina Rodrigues Saturn, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University, remarks that it is amazing to see how onlookers are able to relate people to their genes. It confirms the presence of a gene which is involved in social processing. Other studies have already shown that people are good at judging people at a distance.
The study shows that variations in the oxytocin receptor may influence the social behavior of the people. Individuals with prosocial gene easily mingle with others while those who do not have this gene would have to be coaxed to be more outgoing. Saturn warns that this does not mean people who have less social traits needs to be fixed, but one should realize that they are trying to overcome a genetically influenced trait. More time is required for this change to happen.